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Author Interview: Isabel Kim
2020-03-31 · by Stewart C Baker
Isabel J. Kim is a law student by day and a writer-artist electric hybrid by night. She’s been published in The Penn Review and her art has been covered in Hyperallergic. Find her work at isabel.kim and her on twitter at @isabeljkim
This interview was conducted over email in February of 2020
sub-Q Magazine: What’s your favourite thing about interactive fiction?
Isabel Kim: My favorite thing about interactive fiction is that it allows for stories that are weirder than a traditional linear narrative, both structurally and in subject matter. Taking the idea of “linearity” out of a story gives the writer more opportunity to explore different types of narratives and outcomes—the conclusion to the narrative doesn’t need to be fixed, and as a reader I love exploring the ways “things could have happened.” I also love that intfic isn’t just about writing the story, but about creating an experience for the player/reader.
I also really appreciate how intfic straddles the line between literature, games, and “weird internet experiences.” I fell into intfic because I took a class on digital literature while taking a different class on digital media and artwork, where we were introduced to Twine, and I appreciate that reading and writing intfic gives me the opportunity to use my digital media creating skillset.
sub-Q Magazine: As Kingmaker’s front page boldly proclaims, it’s a story about ambition. Is this a topic you’ve explored before, one that you find yourself returning to in your work, or a one-off?
Isabel Kim: A topic that I end up returning to is “desire,” and I think in that sense, ambition as a facet of desire very much interests me. Kingmaker is the bluntest application of the idea that I’ve written, because the character the reader embodies is focused on their goals to the detriment of every other aspect of their life—arguably, Kingmaker is about a backstory for a villain.
In a lot of my earlier, unpublished-and-never-going-to-be-published work, I was really interested in exploring the dynamic between characters who are blindly wanting and characters who apathetically want nothing at all. The push and pull between desire and what a person is willing to do to get what they want is something really interesting to me, and that has bled over into a lot of my work. The dichotomy between happiness and ambition is also something I think a lot about, not just in my writing but in my personal life. “What makes someone want?” and “Is what they want good for them?” are two questions I like investigating in my narratives.
sub-Q Magazine: In Kingmaker, you play the game painfully aware that your choices will make a difference, but with no clear idea (at first) which ones will make the right difference. And, of course, sacrifices must also be made… What led you to the idea of giving the player a clearly numbered set of opportunities before the effects of their choices were revealed?
Isabel Kim: I wrote Kingmaker during my first year of law school, when I was still thinking a lot about whether I had made the right choice to apply, and how the trajectory of my life was going to be different because of that choice. I had also just finished college—with a double major in English and Fine Art—and as the semester progressed, I was struggling with what felt like giving up on some of my artistic dreams in order to pursue other goals. I felt that I was on a time limit for many of my desires.
I was thinking a lot about the sacrifices that one makes in pursuit of blind ambition, and the other paths that become closed as time advances. Most of all, sitting in my apartment studying casebooks and praying that finals would be kind, I thought about how when one sets on a path, one never knows the outcome. In a semi-sarcastic sense, Kingmaker is about my personal quarter life crisis, magnified a hundred-fold.
Kingmaker functions on a few different principles. The first, that you need to keep advancing—there is never an option to give up. The second, that to win (and to read a full narrative), you need to pick a talent and drill down on it, at which point the other two talents become liabilities that you should sacrifice. The third is that the choices you get are randomized—except for the fact that your sacrificed talents are removed from the board, and that means the chance of getting SACRIFICE is higher. And the last, that winning and losing are emotionally similar outcomes, despite the fact that there is a win/lose condition. Adding a clearly numbered set of opportunities forces the reader to engage with these principles on a time limit, and use their resources based on their knowledge that their time is limited.
sub-Q Magazine: How would you fare on coronation day?
Isabel Kim: Oh, if I were the protagonist I’d definitely be the one making deals with Lovecraftian horrorterrors, exchanging my heart for the throne. That’s sort of what school is anyway, right?
sub-Q Magazine: Tell us about something that’s new! Anything exciting you’re working on? Plans for the coming year?
Isabel Kim: If you like weird digital conceptual art, I’ve got a piece coming out soon in the ICA Philadelphia’s online publication, titled ALL SHOW — it’s a riff on my Infinite Artwork Simulator(http://isabel.kim/infiniteartwork/), this time responding specifically to the Fall 2019 ICA show. I’m working on writing a novel with a friend about gravediggers, flesh-based magic, and evil anthropologists trying to resurrect a dragon. Another friend and I are resurrecting our screenprinting and social activism pop-up studio, Studio AltF4 (http://studioaltf4.com/). Also, I’m starting my third year of law school. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I’m multidimensional like that.